Your time in college is spent largely in pursuit of higher learning. OK — there may be some partying in there, but mostly your focus is academic. And with this dogged focus on learning, having moments of respite, surrounded by the calming sights and sounds of nature, is crucial.
There’s even been research on the value of nature to our overall health. Walking in nature has been shown to reduce our risks of cancer, heart disease, and stroke, among other things. “Forest bathing,” or simply spending time among the trees, has similar effects, and can reduce stress and anxiety. And while you may not put access to nature near the top of your checklist when comparing universities — perhaps you should.
We partnered with Dr. John La Puma to determine the healthiest universities across the United States, based on their access to nature. Dr. La Puma is a best-selling author, professionally trained chef, and specialist in internal medicine.
The resulting list of schools have abundant days of sunshine, views of nature from campus, a close proximity to participate in outdoor activities including farm work, and are recognized for their natural beauty. After seeing what these schools have to offer outside of the lecture halls, you may reconsider your top picks.
University of Colorado Boulder
Boulder, Colorado sits at the foot of the majestic Rocky Mountains. For hundreds of miles to the east lie the Great Plains, which ends abruptly at the edge of this college town. Students of the University of Colorado Boulder can see the rocky foothills, known as the Flatirons, looming over their campus daily. With this access to one of the most breathtaking mountain ranges in the world comes countless opportunities to spend time in nature. There are hiking and cycling clubs, and student organizations focused on the environment. Off campus, students can intern at Cure Organic Farm, a commercial family farm that serves up local, organic produce to families and restaurants in the area. Or, you can spend your time among the countless trails, peaks, and parks in the area.
Sweet Briar College
At the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia rests Sweet Briar College, a private women’s college known for its horseback riding program and rich history. The campus rests on the grounds of an old plantation. On campus is a 130-acre riding center including miles of scenic trails — for riding and also for walking, jogging, or biking. The college offers an outdoor program for students, complete with backpacking, rock climbing, rafting, hiking, skiing, and kayaking. The nearby mountains, forests, and lakes mean there’s no shortage of natural amenities.
Wellesley College, outside of Boston, Massachusetts, is known as much for the women who’ve gone there as it is for its academics. Hillary Clinton, Madeleine Albright, and Diane Sawyer are among the alumnae. The campus overlooks Lake Waban and is both surrounded and filled with trees and meadows. The campus was designed around the naturally occurring landscape, so the buildings seem to rise out of nature. Wellesley Wellness Trails is a system of hiking trails that winds through the 500-acre campus, designed to give students and faculty easy access to the surrounding natural beauty.
Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington began as a seminary for pioneer children in 1866. In 1882, it transitioned into a private college. Now, the school, which is located on lush grounds surrounded by the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest, caters to students from 31 countries. It’s located at the foot of the Blue Mountains, an area known for its “wheat fields, sweet onions, and wine.” The college boasts at least one tree for every student and courses in glacier mountaineering and wilderness skills. One of the more popular campus spots for reflection is Cordiner Glen, a small park-like area often called “Narnia.”
The oldest college in the state of South Carolina, Furman University features its own lake and wooded campus, and is located at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The campus neighbors Paris Mountain State Park, which has a wealth of natural beauty and outdoor opportunities like fishing, hiking, boating, and camping. All of the surrounding natural and landscaped beauty leads the university to be repeatedly recognized as one of the most beautiful campuses in the world.
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Despite an urban location, the University of Wisconsin-Madison has plenty of natural appeal. First, it’s on the banks of Lake Mendota, complete with public beaches, fishing, and boating options. Nearby is also Lake Monona. On the weekends, students can stroll through Madison and check out the huge farmers’ market at Capitol Square. The student union offers boat and camping rentals and snowshoe rentals during the wintertime. The university even offers yoga classes on stand-up paddleboards (SUP).
Mount Holyoke College
Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts is a small women’s liberal arts college. Especially exciting for golfers, the campus boasts its own 18-hole course. There’s also the Mount Holyoke Outing Club, a student organization designed to help you experience the great outdoors, through camping, horseback riding, and more. If the expanses of a golf course aren’t enough, Mount Holyoke also has two lakes, riding trails and stables, botanical gardens, and even waterfalls on campus.
Cornell University is an Ivy League school located in Ithaca, New York. The college is known for its rigorous academics, but that doesn’t mean they neglect the natural world. In fact, there are so many natural areas on campus, they’ve created a website to help students discover them all! Use the website to learn more about Beebe Lake, where students can read, hike, kayak, and bike. You’ll also learn about the A.D. White House Gardens, the Cascadilla Gorge in downtown Ithaca, and numerous woods, parks, and gardens.
University of Washington
One of the oldest universities on the west coast, the University of Washington was founded in 1861. On campus, the botanic gardens play host to family activities, programs for children, hikes, self-guided adventures and more. UWild Adventures is a university program that focuses on providing outdoor adventure opportunities including rock climbing, kayaking, camping, backpacking, and more. Of course, Seattle itself hosts many natural attractions including lakes, camps, and even national parks within driving distance.